I can’t be the only one who finds the news coverage of the student protests bizarre and depressing. I know I’m not the only one who fails to feel an emotional attachment to smashed windows. We’re told that a policeman is dragged from his horse and beaten by protestors. But he wasn’t. The Prime Minister had less to say about a young man who was beaten by riot police and had to have emergency brain surgery. But let’s not talk about that.
There is a confusion about who or what the protestors are. They are naïve children one moment and the next they are seasoned professionals. First they are merely middle class then they are “vermin”. They cease to be children when they are surrounded and beaten and they stop being middle class when they fight back. They also, apparently, stop being democratic. A non-elected coalition government enacts the biggest cuts to the public sector ever without once discussing it with the public, doing the very opposite of what many of them said they would do before the election and it is the people protesting this situation who are the anti-democratic ones. This type of thinking is what leads to the ridiculous concept of the anti-democratic mob.
The other confusion is about the justification for the fees and cuts. That the cuts are never mentioned is part of the problem. The politicians’ justification is that the cuts have to happen and that students will have to pay instead. But then, when accused of making it impossible for anyone without wealthy parents to get an education past GCSEs, they say that the poorest won’t have to pay back the fees until they make enough money and if they never make enough money they will never pay anything back. But then what about the cuts? Weren’t the fees supposed to replace taxes lost to cuts? After this the argument turns to the uselessness of education. They say that only subjects that get people into jobs are valid. This is why they are cutting the arts and humanities (conveniently forgetting that there are in fact jobs in the arts and humanities).
The idea is that the university has to exist to train people for jobs. That this can be said and go unchecked while in the midst of a recession and huge unemployment rates is absurd. This recession was caused by unregulated loans and speculation, caused by the idea that there should be no restrictions on business. The call to make universities training centres for businesses at a time when the economic foundations that the business world is built on are at the risk of total collapse is madness. To subject universities even further to the excesses of the market during a time where the market is depressed more than it was during the Great Depression should be unspeakable.
We all laughed in Britain when Tea Party-types in the US slagged off the NHS for being socialist. We laughed because we know how well the NHS works, that we in Britain pay less for our healthcare than the US does and we have a better healthcare service than the US. But now the news media is filled with people taking the common (non)sense position that students should, in the interest of fairness, pay for their own education. Do they really believe that their taxes will go down if students have to pay? Have they forgotten what happened to the trains? Private train companies still get money from taxes and yet they manage to provide a terrible service and charge enormous ticket prices that rise higher and higher every year. With privatised services that charge the user at the point of entry, fees go on top of tax subsidies and create a poorer service that succeeds only in enriching private bureaucrats while making ordinary people foot the bill.
All this is justified with the word “efficiency”. You or I might think that efficiency means something/someone that does a job better and with less waste. “Efficiency” in business means getting more money for less work. In politics it means getting more tax money into private hands. The quality of the work doesn’t come into it. This is how the rail system – despite costing more, suffering from more frequent delays, despite the lack of seats and the more frequent accidents – is considered efficient.
This quest for efficiency is why the universities are only the beginning. The Tories have a last, fleeting opportunity to finish what Thatcher started, Major clung to and Blair/Brown accelerated: the privatisation of everything.
If the news media and politicians seem to care more about broken glass than beaten bodies it’s because they care more about private property than people.